5 Things Parents of Kids with Developmental Disabilities Need to Know

– Transitioning to Adulthood – 

Let’s face it, there are a lot of things parents need to know about preparing their teenagers to be adults, and that list is a lot longer than 5 things, but when it comes to helping a child with developmental disabilities, here are a few of our favorite tips.

  1. Start early.

They say all it takes is for a parent to blink and their kids are grown up, and while that may be a bit of an exaggeration, parents frequently forget how quickly their child’s 18th birthday is approaching. When a person turns 18, they are an adult in the eyes of the law, and this changes the legal rights and responsibilities of a parent. If you have a child who has developmental disabilities, and you are concerned about their care after they become an adult, you need to start talking to an attorney about options at least six months before their birthday.

At Alan R. Harrison Law, we want to get to know you and your child as early as 15. We will help you identify their current needs and strengths so that you can monitor change as they get closer to 18. We also help you decide the type of legal options that make sense. Maybe your child will thrive with powers of attorney in place to allow you to help when needed, or you may need to consider guardianship and/or conservatorship. Either way, we can help you through the process and handle the paperwork and court hearings if needed.

  1. Keep track of reports and documentation.

Part of starting early is being able to keep track of medical and educational evaluations that will be needed when deciding how to help your child transition to adulthood. In most cases, the court appointed evaluation committee wants to see records that are no more than one to three years old. If applying for federal and state benefits, that window may be even smaller. Knowing when your last assessments were done, who did them, and any recommendations made will help you when it comes time to transition your child to adult systems. If your evaluations will be more than three years old by the time your child turns 18 you may want to consider getting them updated around the time they turn 17. If you choose to apply for guardianship, the assessment reports will be submitted to the court appointed evaluation committee, so be sure to request a copy from each of your providers when the assessment is completed.

  1. Identify the type of help your child will need to be successful.

Not all children with developmental disabilities need a guardian or a conservator when they become an adult, in fact, most probably don’t. Some of these new adults have the skills they need to be successful when making their own decisions, but some need more support. Powers of attorney allow your adult child to give you authority to act on their behalf in specific situations. There are multiple types of power of attorney, such as power of attorney for finances, and a living will and durable power of attorney for medical decisions. Your child can choose what types of authority they want you to have in these documents.

It is important to note that in Idaho powers of attorney can be revoked verbally, so if your child is frequently upset about people helping them make decisions, they may choose to revoke their power of attorney, leaving you unable to help them.

If your adult child will need more help than powers of attorney will provide, then guardianship and/or conservatorship may be the right choice. Guardians are appointed by a judge through a court order, and have all of the rights and responsibilities of a parent of a minor, except they are not responsible to pay for the person with their own funds, and they are not legally responsible for their actions.

At Alan R. Harrison Law, helping you decide the best option for your child with developmental disabilities is part of our Collaborative Legal Planning Process™. We get to know you and your child, and explain your options. We then help you navigate the paperwork needed to complete your desired option.

  1. Think about what supports your child needs.

There are so many things we do for our kids on a daily basis, and we probably don’t even consciously think about most of them. Taking the time to think through what help your child needs is a great way to start developing a plan for if you are not available to help them with their care.

As part of the Collaborative Legal Planning Process™, we guide you through a Caregiver Planning Workbook™ and then help you create a Caregiver Plan™ for your child. This plan can be used to document specific needs if you choose to apply for guardianship, but it can also accompany your estate plan to help the person who assists your child if you are no longer able. If you choose to update your Caregiver Planning Workbook™ annually after they turn 15, it helps you document changing support needs over time.

  1. Learn about adult serving programs and benefits. (Hint: They are almost always different than child serving programs and benefits.)

If your child currently receives government benefits, (or they don’t because of your income and you think they may qualify once your income in not counted after they are 18), you need to start gathering information about the application process, eligibility requirements, and medical documentation needed. Some adult programs are based solely on income, while some are specific to the type of disability and income. In Idaho, the best place to start your search is the Department of Health and Welfare, and Social Security websites. Local special needs parent groups can be another helpful resource of information.

Preparing for adulthood for a child with developmental disabilities can be complex. In addition to decisions about powers of attorney and guardianship, you may have estate planning needs, such as nominating a successor guardian in your will or creating a supplemental needs trust. To help you through these decisions, you need an attorney who specializes in families with special needs loved ones. If you are interested in adult transition planning for a special needs loved one, please take a look at our website and schedule a time to meet with us. At Alan R. Harrison Law, we take our pledge to help you create a Collaborative Legal Plan™ seriously and look forward to working with you.